This article is about the ancient Greek city. For the hamlet in New York, see Mycenae, New York.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv, vi
Reference UNESCO region Europe and North America

37°43′51″N 22°45′22″E / 37.730833°N 22.756111°E / 37.730833; 22.756111

Inscription history
Inscription 1999 (23rd Session)

Mycenae (/mˈsni/; Greek Μυκῆναι Mykēnai or Μυκήνη Mykēnē) is an archaeological site in Greece, located about 90 kilometres (56 miles) southwest of Athens, in the north-eastern Peloponnese. Argos is 11 kilometres (7 miles) to the south; Corinth, 48 kilometres (30 miles) to the north. From the hill on which the palace was located, one can see across the Argolid to the Saronic Gulf.

In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece. The period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to Mycenae.


Although the citadel was built by Greeks, the name is thought not to be Greek, but rather one of the many pre-Greek place names inherited by the immigrant Greeks.[1]

Legend has it that the name was connected to the Greek word "μύκης" (mycēs), 'mushroom'. Thus, Pausanias ascribes the name to the legendary founder Perseus, who was said to have named it either after the cap (mycēs)of the sheath of his sword, or after a mushroom he had plucked on the site.[2]

The earliest written form of the name is Mykēnē (Μυκήνη) as for example by Homer.[3] The reconstructed Mycenaean Greek name of the site is Mukānai, which has the form of a plural like Athānai. The change of ā to ē in more recent versions of the name is the result of a well-known sound change in later Attic-Ionic.



Only scattered sherds from disturbed debris have been found datable to the Neolithic (prior to 3500 BC). The site was inhabited, but the stratigraphy has been destroyed by later construction.

Early Bronze Age

It is believed (by whom?) that Mycenae was settled close to 2000 BC by Indo-Europeans who practiced farming and herding. Scattered sherds dating to 2100-1700 BC have been found, when Mycenae interacted with Minoan Crete. Other theories (which theories?) suggest the settling of Mycenae a thousand years earlier.

Middle Bronze Age

The first burials in pits or cist graves began at about 1800-1700 BC to the west of the acropolis, which was at least partially enclosed by the earliest circuit wall.

Of the period and those graves, Emily Vermeule said:

...there is nothing in the Middle Helladic world to prepare us for the furious splendor of the Shaft Graves.[4]

Late Bronze Age

During the Bronze Age, the pattern of settlement at Mycenae was a fortified hill surrounded by hamlets and estates, in contrast to the dense urbanity on the coast (cf. Argos). Since Mycenae was the capital of a state that ruled, or dominated, much of the eastern Mediterranean world, the rulers must have placed their stronghold in this less populated and more remote region for its defensive value. Since there are few documents on site with datable contents (such as an Egyptian scarab) and since no dendrochronology has yet been performed upon the remains here, the events are listed here according to Helladic period material culture.

Late Helladic I

Outside the partial circuit wall, Grave Circle B, named for its enclosing wall, contained ten cist graves in Middle Helladic style and several shaft graves, sunk more deeply, with interments resting in cists. Richer grave goods mark the burials as possibly regal. Mounds over the top contained broken drinking vessels and bones from a repast, testifying to a more than ordinary farewell.[5][6] Stelae surmounted the mounds.[7]

A walled enclosure, Grave Circle A, included six more shaft graves, with 9 female, 8 male, and two juvenile interments. Grave goods were more costly than in Circle B. The presence of engraved and inlaid swords and daggers, with spear points and arrowheads, leave little doubt that warrior chieftains and their families were buried here. Some art objects obtained from the graves are the Silver Siege Rhyton, the Mask of Agamemnon, the Cup of Nestor, and weapons both votive and practical.

Late Helladic II

Alan Wace divided the nine tholos tombs of Mycenae into three groups of three, each based on architecture. His earliest - the Cyclopean Tomb, Epano Phournos, and the Tomb of Aegisthus - are dated to IIA.

Burial in tholoi is seen as replacing burial in shaft graves. The care taken to preserve the shaft graves testifies that they were by then part of the royal heritage, the tombs of the ancestral heroes. Being more visible, the tholoi all had been plundered either in antiquity, or in later historic times.

Late Helladic III

At a conventional date of 1350 BC, the fortifications on the acropolis, and other surrounding hills, were rebuilt in a style known as cyclopean because the blocks of stone used were so massive that they were thought in later ages to be the work of the one-eyed giants known as the cyclopes (singular: Cyclops). Within these walls, much of which can still be seen, successive monumental palaces were built. The final palace, remains of which are currently visible on the acropolis of Mycenae, dates to the start of LHIIIA:2. Earlier palaces must have existed, but they had been cleared away or built over.[8]

The construction of palaces at that time with a similar architecture was general throughout southern Greece. They all featured a megaron, or throne room, with a raised central hearth under an opening in the roof, which was supported by four columns in a square around the hearth. A throne was placed against the center of a wall to the side of the hearth, allowing an unobstructed view of the ruler from the entrance. Frescos adorned the plaster walls and floor.[8]

Examples of tholos, outside the citadel of Mycenae: Treasury of Atreus, outside view (left), tomb of Clytemnestra, inside view (right)

The room was accessed from a courtyard with a columned portico. A grand staircase led from a terrace below to the courtyard on the acropolis.

In the Temple built within the citadel, a scarab of Queen Tiye of Egypt, who was married to Amenhotep III, was placed in the Room of the Idols alongside at least one statue of either LHIIIA:2 or B:1 type. Amenhotep III's relations with m-w-k-i-n-u, *Mukana, have corroboration from the inscription at Kom al-Hetan - but Amenhotep's reign is thought to align with late LHIIIA:1. It is likely that Amenhotep's herald presented the scarab to an earlier generation, which then found the resources to rebuild the citadel as Cyclopean and then, to move the scarab here.

Wace’s second group of tholoi are dated between IIA and IIIB: Kato Phournos, Panagia Tholos, and the Lion Tomb. The final group, Group III: the Treasury of Atreus, the Tomb of Clytemnestra and the Tomb of the Genii, are dated to IIIB by a sherd under the threshold of the Treasury of Atreus, the largest of the nine tombs. Like the Treasury of Minyas at Orchomenus the tomb had been looted of its contents and its nature as funerary monument had been forgotten. The structure bore the traditional name of "Treasury".

The pottery phases on which the relative dating scheme is based (EH, MH, LH, etc.) do not allow very precise dating, even augmented by the few existing C-14 dates due to the tolerance inherent in these. The sequence of further construction at Mycenae is approximately as follows. In the middle of LHIIIB, around 1250 or so, the Cyclopean wall was extended on the west slope to include grave circle A.[10] The main entrance through the circuit wall was made grand by the best known feature of Mycenae, the Lion Gate, through which passed a stepped ramp leading past circle A and up to the palace. The Lion Gate was constructed in the form of a 'Relieving Triangle' in order to support the weight of the stones. An undecorated postern gate also was constructed through the north wall.

One of the few groups of excavated houses in the city outside the walls lies beyond Grave Circle B and belongs to the same period. The House of Shields, the House of the Oil Merchant, the House of the Sphinxes, and the West House. These may have been both residences and workshops.

Citadel facts and figures
Circuit length: 1105M
Preserved height: up to 12.5M
Width: 7.5-17M
Minimum stone required: 145,215 Cu.M or 14,420 average stones (10 tons)
Time to move 1 Block using men: 2.125 days
Time to move all Blocks using men: 110.52 years
Time to move 1 Block using oxen: 0.125 days
Time to move all Blocks using oxen: 9.9 years
based on 8 hour work day
The largest stones including the lintels and gate jambs weighed well over 20 tonnes; some may have been close to 100 tonnes.[11]The Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World

Somewhat later, toward the end of LHIIIB, another extension to the citadel was undertaken. The wall was extended again on the northeast, with a sally port and also a secret passage through and under the wall, of corbeled construction, leading downward by some 99 steps to a cistern carved out of rock 15 m below the surface. It was fed by a tunnel from a spring on more distant higher ground.

Already in LHIIIA:1, Egypt knew *Mukana by name as a capital city on the level of Thebes and Knossos. During LHIIIB, Mycenae's political, military and economic influence likely extended as far as Crete, Pylos in the western Peloponnese, and to Athens and Thebes. Hellenic settlements already were being placed on the coast of Anatolia. A collision with the Hittite empire over their sometime dependency at a then strategic location, Troy, was to be expected. In folklore, the powerful Pelopid family ruled many Greek states, one branch of which was the Atreid dynasty at Mycenae.


By 1200 BC, the power of Mycenae was declining; during the 12th century, Mycenaean dominance collapsed. The destruction of Mycenae is part of the general Bronze Age collapse. Within a short time around 1200 BC, all the palaces of southern Greece were burned, including that at Mycenae.[8] This is traditionally attributed to a Dorian invasion of Greeks from the north, although some historians now doubt that this invasion caused the destruction of the Mycenean centres. Displaced populations escaped to former colonies of the Mycenaeans in Anatolia and elsewhere, where they came to speak the Ionic dialect.

Emily Vermeule suggests that the disruption of commercial networks at the end of 13th century BC, was disastrous for Greece and this was followed by the coming of the mysterious Sea Peoples, who caused a chaos in the Aegean.[12] According to the Egyptian records, the Sea Peoples destroyed the Hittite Empire then attacked the 19th and the 20th dynasties of Egypt, ( ca 1300-1164 ). They may be related with the destruction of the Mycenean centers (the records of Pylos mention sea-attack). However at the end of LH III B period, the Myceneans undertook an expedition against Troy, which indicates that the sea was safe, and there is no any indication of destructions in the Aegean islands.[13]

Other theories have been that a drought caused the Mycenaean decline, but there is no climatological evidence for this. Manolis Andronikos claimed that a social revolution caused the destruction of the Mycenean sites,[14] but it is not sensible, because all the Mycenean centers throughout Greece were destroyed almost simultaneously.[15] George E. Mylonas noticed that after 1200 BC, some attempt was made for recovery in Mycenea. He believes that in Argolid there was an internal fighting, and this was followed by the Dorian invasion. It seems that the Dorians moved southward gradually in small clans, until they managed to establish themselves in the land [16]

Amos Nur argues that earthquakes played a major role in the destruction of Mycenae and many other cities at the end of the Bronze Age.[17] However, no conclusive evidence has been brought forward to confirm any theory of why the Mycenaean citadel and others throughout Greece fell almost simultaneously at this time.

Whatever the cause, by the LH IIIC period (whose latest phase is also termed "Submycenaean"), Mycenae was no longer a major power. Pottery and decorative styles were changing rapidly. Craftsmanship and art declined. Although the settlement was much reduced in size, the citadel remained occupied though it never regained its earlier importance. A temple dedicated to Hera was built on the summit in the Archaic period. A Mycenaean contingent fought at Thermopylae and Plataea during the Persian Wars. In 468 BC, however, troops from Argos captured Mycenae, expelled the inhabitants and slighted the fortifications.[18]

Revival and end

Mycenae was briefly reoccupied in the Hellenistic period, when it could boast a theatre. It was subsequently abandoned, and by Roman times its ruins had become a tourist attraction.[19]

Political organization

It seems that the state was ruled by a king who is identified with the name wa-na-ka ( "wanax') in the Linear B inscriptions at Knossos and Pylos. In the Homeric poems he is the lord ( άναξ). Some inscriptions with a list of offerings indicate that the king was probably divine, but the term "for the king" is usually accompanied by another name.[20] It is doubtful that the wanax was responsible for religious matters, but probably his title indicates that his right to rule was given by the god.[21] The term qa-si-re-u (cf. βασιλεύς / "basileús") which was later used in Greece for "king", seems that was used for the "chief" of any group of people, or for a provincial official. ( Later Homer mentions many basilees in Ithaca).

The land possessed by the king is usually called te-me-no (τέμενος / "témenos"), a word that survived in classical Greece. (the temenos placed by Hephaestus on the shield of Achilles is called "royal").[21] Other important land owners were the ra-wa-ke-ta ("lāwāgetas"), the leader of the people, and the te-re-ta ("telestai"), the officials. Lawagetas is placed next to the king and he could be the leader of the army, but it is not confirmed by the inscriptions.[20] Palmer suggests that the "telestai were the men of telos- the fief holders".[21] The e-qe-ta ("equetai"), literally, "the companions" or "followers", were a group of nobles (aristocrats), who followed the king in peace and war. From the existing evidence, it seems that the kingdom was further subdivided into sixteen districts. The ko-re-te was the "governor of the district" and the po-ro-ko-re-te the "deputy". It is possible that the real names were koreter and prokoreter. The da-mo-ko-ro (damokoros) was an official appointment but his duties are not very clear. The communal land was held at the hands of da-mo (literally, "people", cf. δῆμος / dễmos), or "plot holders", a word that survived in classical Greece (demos, democracy). It seems that ”Damo” was a collective body of men, representing the local district.[20] It is suggested that qa-si-re-u had a council of elders, a ke-ro-si-ja,( later "γερουσια" gerousia), but Palmer believes that it was an organization of "bronze smiths" [21]


Much of the Mycenaean religion survived into classical Greece in their pantheon of Greek deities, but it is not known to what extent Greek religious belief is Mycenaean, nor how much is a product of the Greek Dark Ages or later. Finley detected only few authentic Mycenean beliefs in the eighth-century Homeric world,[22] but Nilsson suggested that the Mycenean religion was the mother of the Greek religion.[23] Through the oral tradition Homer transferred the beliefs during the Dark Ages, but he kept in memory the confederacy of the Greeks under the powerful king of Mycenae.[24] when gods walked along friendly with men, and the "heroic-age" when great heroes dominated the scene. The belief in gods as embodiments of power, the heroic outlook inherited from a distant past together with the local chthonic cults, were later fitted into the frame of the city-states and his demands into an elastic system.

From the history traced by Nilsson and Guthrie, the Mycenean pantheon consisted of Minoan deities, but also of gods and goddesses who appear under different names with similar functions in East and West.[25] Many of these names appearing in the Linear B inscriptions can be found later in classical Greece like Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, Eileithyia and Dionysos,[26] but the etymology is the only evidence of the cults.

There are several reasonable guesses that can be made, however. It seems that originally the Myceneans like many Indo-Europeans considered divine any object that inherited an internal power ( anima). Certain religious beliefs were mixed with the beliefs of the local populations as it appears in the old cults of isolated Arcadia which survived up to classical Greece. In these cults, Poseidon appears usually as a horse, representing the river spirit of the underworld as it usually happens in northern-European folklore.The precursor goddesses of Demeter and Persephone are closely related with the springs and the animals, and especially with Poseidon and Artemis who was the first nymph.[27] Mycenaean religion was almost certainly polytheistic, and the Myceneans were actively syncretistic, adding foreign deities to their pantheon of deities with considerable ease. The Myceneans probably entered Greece with a pantheon of deities headed by some ruling sky-deity which linguists speculate might have been called *Dyeus in early Indo-European. In Greek, this deity would become Zeus (pronounced zdeus in ancient Greek). Among the Hindus, this sky-deity becomes "Dyaus Pita". In Latin he becomes "deus pater" or Jupiter; we still encounter this word in the etymologies of the words "deity" and "divine."

Later in some cults Zeus is united with the Aegean Great Goddess, who is represented by Hera, in a "holy wedding" (hieros gamos).At some point in their cultural history, the Myceneans adopted some Minoan goddesses like Aphaea, Britomartis, Diktynna[25] and associated them with their sky-god. Many of them were absorbed by more powerful divinities, and some like the vegetation goddesses Ariadne and Helen survived in Greek folklore together with the cult of the "divine child", who was probably the precursor of Dionysos.[28][29] Athena and Hera survived and were tutelary goddesses, the guardians of the palaces and the cities. In general, later Greek religion distinguishes between two types of deities: the Olympian, or sky, deities (including Zeus), which are now commonly known in some form or another; and, the chthonic deities, or deities of the earth. Walter Burkert warns:

"To what extent one can and must differentiate between Minoan and Mycenaean religion is a question which has not yet found a conclusive answer"[30]

and suggests that useful parallels will be found in the relations between Etruscan and Archaic Greek culture and religion, or between Roman and Hellenistic culture

The pantheon also included deities representing the powers of nature and wild life, who appear with similar functions in the Mediterranean region.[25] The "Mistress of the animals", later called Artemis, who was the first nymph, may be identified as the Minoan Britomartis, and has similar functions with the Sumerian Ninhursag.[31] Poseidon is the lord of the sea, and therefore of storms and earthquakes, (the "Earth shaker" in Linear B tablets ). He may have functioned as a pre-Hellenic chthonic Zeus, the lord or spouse of the Earth goddess.[32] Athena whose task was to protect the olive-trees is a civic Artemis. The powers of animal nature fostered a belief in nymphs whose existence was bound to the trees and the waters, and in gods with human forms and the heads or tails of animals who stood for primitive bodily insticts. In Arcadia were depicted animal-headed gods, indicating than in the remote past the gods were conceived as animals and birds, in a surrounding of animal-headed daemons.[27] Later the gods were revealed in human forms with an animal as a companion or symbol. Some of the old gods survived in the cult of Dionysos (Satyrs) and Pan (the goat-god).

The Myceneans adopted probably from the east a priest-king system and the belief of a ruling deity in the hands of a theocratic society. At the end of the second milemnium BC, when the Mycenean city-state collapsed, it seems that the Greek thought was gradually released from the idea that each man was a servant to the gods, and sought a "moral purpose". It is possible that this procedure started before the end of the Mycenean age, but the idea is almost absent or vague in the Homeric poems, where the interference of the gods is not related to the rightness or wrongness of men's actions.[25] Later, Hesiod uses a lot of eastern material in his cosmology and in the genealogical trees of the gods,[33] and he introduces the idea of the existence of something else behind the gods, which was more powerful than they.[34] This is the powerful Fate (Moira), who in the Homeric poems is acting in parallel with the gods and predestinates the events.[35] Hesiod complies to the Greek desire of an order in the universe, and tries to bring the gods under a rule comparable to the rule which controls the lives of men. In Greek mythology this power is named Ananke (necessity).[36][37]

The Olympian system is an ordered system. The Greek divinities live with Zeus at their head and each is concerned with a recognizable sphere. However certain elements in some Greek cults indicate the survival of some older cults from a less rationalized world: old cults of the dead, agrarian magic, exorcism of evil spirits, peculiar sacrifices, and animal-headed gods, In the Homeric poems, the avenging Fate was probably originally a daemon, acting in parallel with the gods.[35] Later, the cult of Dionysos Zagreus indicates that life-blood of animals was needed to renew that of men.[38] A similar belief may be guessed from the Mycenean Hagia Triada sarcophagus (1400 BC), which combines features of Minoan civilization and Mycenean style. It seems that the blood of a bull was used for the regeneration of the reappearing dead.[39] Probably most of these cults existed in the Mycenean-age and survived by immemorial practice.

A secondary level of importance was the cult of the heroes, which seems to have started in the Mycenean-age. These were great men of the past who were exalted to honourafter death, because of what they had done. According to an old Minoan belief beyond the sea there was an island called Elysion,[40] where the departured could have a different, but happier existence.[41] Later, the Greeks believed that there could live in human form only the heroes, and the beloved of the gods. The souls of the rest were drifting unconsciously in the gloomy space of Hades. Gods and men had common origin, but there was an enormous gap between the immortal gods and the mortal men. However certain elements indicate that the Myceneans probably believed in a future existence. Two well-preserved bodies were found in Shaft Grave VI, and Helbig believed that an embalming preceded the burial.[42] In the shaft graves discovered by Schliemann, the corpses were lightly exposed to fire in order to preserve them[43]

Mycenaean religion certainly involved offerings and sacrifices to the deities, and some have speculated that their ceremonies involved human sacrifice based on textual evidence and bones found outside tombs. In the Homeric poems, there seems to be a lingering cultural memory of human sacrifice in King Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia; several of the stories of Trojan heroes involve tragic human sacrifice. In the far past, even human beings might be offered to placate inscrutable gods, especially in times of guilty fear. Later sacrifice became a feast at which oxen were slaughtered. Men kept the meat, and gave the gods the bones wrapped in fat.[44]

Beyond this speculation we can go no further. Somewhere in the shades of the centuries between the fall of the Mycenaean civilization and the end of the Greek Dark Ages, the original Mycenean religion persisted and adapted until it finally emerged in the stories of human devotion, apostasy, and divine capriciousness that exists in the two great epic poems of Homer. It was the beginning of the religion which later the Greeks considered Hellenic, and embodies a paradox. Though the world is dominated by a divine power that the gods bestow in different ways on men, nothing but "darkness" lay ahead and life was sometimes frail and unsubstantial.[45]

Mycenae in Classical Greek mythology and legends

Perseid dynasty

Classical Greek myths assert that Mycenae was founded by Perseus, grandson of king Acrisius of Argos, son of Acrisius' daughter, Danaë. Having killed his grandfather by accident, Perseus could not, or would not, inherit the throne of Argos. Instead he arranged an exchange of realms with his cousin, Megapenthes, and became king of Tiryns, Megapenthes taking Argos. From there he founded Mycenae and ruled the kingdoms jointly from Mycenae.

Perseus married Andromeda and had many sons, but in the course of time, went to war with Argos and was slain by Megapenthes. His son, Electryon, became the second of the dynasty, but the succession was disputed by the Taphians under Pterelaos, another Perseid, who assaulted Mycenae and losing retreated with the cattle. The cattle were recovered by Amphitryon, a grandson of Perseus, but he killed his uncle by accident with a club in an unruly cattle incident and had to go into exile.

The throne went to Sthenelus, third in the dynasty, a son of Perseus. He set the stage for future greatness by marrying Nicippe, a daughter of king Pelops of Elis, the most powerful state of the region and the times. With her he had a son, Eurystheus the fourth and last of the Perseid dynasty. When a son of Heracles, Hyllus, killed Sthenelus, Eurystheus became noted for his enmity to Heracles and for his ruthless persecution of the Heracleidae, the descendants of Heracles.

This is the first we hear in legend of those noted sons, who became a symbol of the Dorians. Heracles had been a Perseid. After his death, Eurystheus determined to annihilate these rivals for the throne of Mycenae, but they took refuge in Athens, and in the course of war, Eurystheus and all his sons were killed. The Perseid dynasty came to an end. The people of Mycenae placed Eurystheus' maternal uncle, Atreus, a Pelopid, on the throne.

Atreid dynasty

The people of Mycenae had received advice from an oracle that they should choose a new king from among the Pelopids. The two contenders were Atreus and his brother, Thyestes. The latter was chosen at first. At this moment nature intervened. The sun appeared to reverse direction and set in the east. Atreus argued that because the sun had reversed its path, the election of Thyestes should be reversed. The argument was heeded, and Atreus became king. His first move was to pursue Thyestes and all his family - that is, his own kin - but Thyestes managed to escape from Mycenae.

In legend, Atreus had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, the Atreids. Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes, killed Atreus and restored Thyestes to the throne. With the help of King Tyndareus of Sparta, the Atreids drove Thyestes again into exile. Tyndareus had two ill-starred daughters, Helen and Clytemnestra, whom Menelaus and Agamemnon married, respectively. Agamemnon inherited Mycenae and Menelaus became king of Sparta.

Soon, Helen eloped with Paris of Troy. Agamemnon conducted a 10-year war against Troy to get her back for his brother. Because of lack of wind, the warships could not sail to Troy. In order to please the gods so that they might make the winds start to blow, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. According to some versions of the legend, the hunting goddess Artemis replaced her at the very last moment with a deer on the altar, and took Iphigenia to Tauris (See Iphigenia en Tauris by Euripides). The deities having been satisfied by such a sacrifice, the winds started blowing and the warfaring fleet departed.

Legend tells us that the long and arduous Trojan War, although nominally a Greek victory, brought anarchy, piracy, and ruin; already before the Greek fleet set sail for Troy, the conflict had divided the gods as well, and this contributed to curses and acts of vengeance following many of the Greek heroes. After the war, Agamemnon, returning, was greeted royally with a red carpet rolled out for him and then was slain in his bathtub by Clytemnestra, who hated him bitterly for having ordered the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia (although the life of the latter had been saved). Clytemnestra was aided in her crime by Aegistheus, who reigned subsequently, but Orestes, son of Agamemnon, was smuggled out to Phocis. He returned as an adult to slay Clytemnestra and Aegistheus. He then fled to Athens to evade justice and a matricide, and became insane for a time. Meanwhile, the throne of Mycenae went to Aletes, son of Aegistheus, but not for long. Recovering, Orestes returned to Mycenae to kill him and take the throne.

Orestes then built a larger state in the Peloponnesus, but he died in Arcadia from a snake bite. His son, Tisamenus, the last of the Atreid dynasty, was killed by the Heracleidae on their return to the Peloponnesus. They claimed the right of the Perseids to inherit the various kingdoms of the Peloponnesus and cast lots for the dominion of them. Whatever the historical realities reflected in these stories, the Atreids are firmly set in the epoch near the end of the Heroic age, leading up to the arrival of the Dorians. There are no established stories of a royal house at Mycenae later than the Atreids, and this could reflect the fact that not much more than fifty or sixty years seem to have separated the fall of Troy VIIa (the likely inspiration of Homeric Troy) and the fall of Mycenae.

Atreids in Asia Minor

In fact, there was a total eclipse of the sun in the Aegean on March 5, 1223 BC, which Atreus might have twisted into a setting of the sun in the east. This date does not solve all the unknowns, however.

A late date is implied for the Trojan War, which would, in that case, have been against Troy VIIa after all. The Perseids would have been in power ca. 1380, the date of a statue base from Kom el-Heitan in Egypt recording the itinerary of an Egyptian embassy to the Aegean in the time of Amenophis III. M-w-k-i-n-u (phonetic "Mukanuh"?) was one of the cities visited, a rare early document of the name of Mycenae. It was one of the cities of the tj-n3-jj ("Tinay"?),[46] Homeric Danaans, named, in myth, after Danaë, which suggests that the Perseids were in fact in some sort of dominion.

Also in the 14th century BC, Ahhiya began to be troublesome to numerous kings of the Hittite Empire. Ahhiyawa or Ahhiya, which occurs a few dozen times in Hittite tablets over the century, is probably Achaiwia, reconstructed Mycenaean Greek for Achaea. The Hittites did not use Danaja as did the Egyptians, even though the first Ahhiya reference in "Indictment of Madduwatta"[47] precedes the correspondence between Amenhotep III and one of Madduwatta's subsequent successors in Arzawa, Tarhunta-Radu. The external LHIIIA:1-era sources do, however, agree in their omission of a great king or other unifying structure behind Ahhiya and the Tinay.

For example, in the "Indictment of Madduwatta", Attarissiya, the "man of Ahhiya" (i.e. ruler), attacks Madduwatta and drives him from his land. He obtains refuge and military assistance from the Hittite Great King Tudhaliya. After the death of the latter and in the reign of his son, Arnuwanda, Madduwatta allies with Attarissiya and they, along with another ruler, raid Alasiya, that is, Cyprus.

This is the only known occurrence of a man named Attarissiya. Attempts to link this name to Atreus have not found wide support, nor is there any evidence of a powerful Pelopid named Atreus of those times.

During LHIIIA:2, Ahhiya, now known as Ahhiyawa, extended its influence over Miletus, settling on the coast of Anatolia, and competed with the Hittites for influence and control in western Anatolia. For instance Uhha-Ziti's Arzawa and through him Manapa-Tarhunta's Seha River Land. While establishing the credibility of the Mycenaean Greeks as a historical power, these documents create as many problems as they solve.

Similarly, a Hittite king wrote the so-called Tawagalawa letter[48] to the Great King of Ahhiyawa, concerning the depredations of the Luwiyan adventurer Piyama-Radu. Neither of the names of the great kings are stated; the Hittite king could be either Muwatalli II or his brother Hattusili III, which at least dates the letter to LHIIIB by Mycenaean standards. But neither the Atreus nor the Agamemnon of legend have any brothers named *Etewoclewes (Eteocles); this name, rather, is associated with Thebes, which during the preceding LHIIIA period Amenhotep III had viewed as equal to Mycenae.

Elsewhere, Muwatalli II (reg. 1296–1272) makes a treaty with Alaksandu (possibly Alexander), king of Wilusa (Ilium); and another document has Wilusa swearing by Appaliuna (Apollo). But the Alaksandu of the treaty is too early to be king of a city assaulted by Agamemnon, and besides, Priam was king of that city.


The first excavations at Mycenae were carried out by the Greek archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis in 1841. He found and restored the Lion Gate. In 1876, Heinrich Schliemann started a complete excavation at the site.[49][50][51] Schliemann believed in the historical truth of the Homeric stories and interpreted the site accordingly. He found the ancient shaft graves with their royal skeletons and spectacular grave goods. Upon discovering a human skull beneath a gold death mask in one of the tombs, he declared: "I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon".

Since Schliemann's day, more scientific excavations have taken place at Mycenae, mainly by Greek archaeologists but also by the British School at Athens. The acropolis was excavated in 1902, and the surrounding hills have been methodically investigated by subsequent excavations.

The Athens Archaeological Society is currently excavating the Mycenae Lower Town (as of 2011), with support from Dickinson College and the Institute for Aegean Prehistory.[52]

See also



  • Elizabeth B. French. Mycenae: Agamemnon's Capital. Tempus, Stroud 2002. ISBN 0-7524-1951-X.
  • K.A. and Diana Wardle. Cities of Legend: The Mycenaean World. Bristol Classical Press 1997, 2000. ISBN 1-85399-355-7
  • W.D. Taylour, E.B. French, and K.A. Wardle. Well Built Mycenae. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1983-2007.
  • Alan John Bayard Wace. Mycenae: an archaeological history and guide. Princeton, 1949 (reprinted 1964).
  • John Chadwick. The Mycenaean World. Cambridge University Press, 1976. ISBN 0-521-21077-1 hardcover or ISBN 0-521-29037-6 paperback
  • Emily Vermeule. Greece in the Bronze Age. The University of Chicago Press, 1964. LC 64-23427
  • Martin P. Nilsson. The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology (1932). Reissued by the University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-01951-2 Cloth, ISBN 0-520-02163-0 Paper
  • George E. Mylonas. Mycenae and the Mycenaean age. Princeton University Press, 1966. LC card 65-17154
  • George E. Mylonas. Mycenae's Last Century of Greatness. Sydney University Press, 1968. ISBN 0424-05820-0
  • George E. Mylonas. Mycenae Rich in Gold. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon, 1983.
  • Leonard R. Palmer. Mycenaeans and Minoans, 1961 (2nd edition: 1965).
  • M. I. Finley. Early Greece, The Bronze and Archaic Ages. W. W. Norton & Company, 1981. ISBN 0-393-01569-6 Hard, ISBN 0-393-30051-X Paper
  • Reid Bryson and Thomas J. Murray. "Climates of Hunger". University of Wisconsin Press, 1977. ISBN 0-299-07370-X

External links

  • British School at Athens Mycenae page
  • Excavation of Citadel House Area
  • Objects from Grave Circle A, including votive weaponry
  • Homepage of Current Dickinson College Excavations at Mycenae

Coordinates: 37°43′51″N 22°45′22″E / 37.73083°N 22.75611°E / 37.73083; 22.75611

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